The Anglican triangle: Scripture, antiquity, and reason

In The Anglican Spirit, Michael Ramsey claims that the Anglican tradition appeals “to Scripture as containing all things necessary to salvation, to antiquity as a guide to the understanding of Scripture, and to reason as a God-given faculty for receiving divine revelation.” “The Anglican Church,” he emphasizes, “has always regarded and still regards Holy Scripture as the supreme authority for the doctrine of the Christian church.” Therefore, we should consider whether it is a mistake to characterize the sources of authority in Anglicanism as “balanced” or “equal,” as the famous “three-legged stool” metaphor implies. Ramsey’s “triangle” metaphor below may be problematic for the same reason. Nevertheless, I appreciate his prudent qualifications and warnings in this passage.

The Anglican tradition has continued to be a kind of triangle, a kind of balance between the appeals to Scripture, tradition, reason. And it is possible for the three sides of the triangle to pull apart. Inevitably there have been within the Anglican churches those who have specially emphasized the appeals to Scripture, and have not bothered very much about the ancient fathers. There have been those who have appealed strongly to ancient tradition, but might have paid a little more attention to reason as well. There have been those who, concentrating upon the activity of God in reason, have not been quite as sensitive as they might be to what is revealed in Holy Scripture and contemptuous of traditions as something that old men used to think many, many centuries ago. 

This division of emphasis is entirely healthy if kept a matter merely of emphasis, but it can be become partisan and divisive if pursued recklessly. So we occasionally witness not just the appeal to Scripture, but a kind of scripturalism, and any “ism” can be dangerous. Scripturalism is not the same thing as the appeal to Holy Scripture. Traditionalism is not the same thing as the intelligent appeal to tradition. And rationalism can be a very evil thing when it involves a worship of reason, and forgets that reason is concerned with great mysteries requiring awe, wonder, and even cleverness. Reason is a gift of God; its use can be corrupted if our dependence upon God is forgotten.

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One thought on “The Anglican triangle: Scripture, antiquity, and reason

  1. I enjoyed reading this. This has nothing to do specifically with your post; it merely relates to the authority of Scripture. As you know, I grew up in the PCUSA (not dissimilar to your childhood church) and they do not adhere to the inerrancy of the gospel. Yes, it might be difficult to think of human writers not having errors, but these are divinely inspired men, and divine words we are reading. If we believe the Scripture to be errant, it completely loses its authority, and we can dissect it to fit whatever religion, morality, or world view we want–and that is not Christianity.

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